When a nation is in a moment of crisis, we expect our leaders to have a bare minimum of two traits: honesty and credibility. Unfortunately, as we wade through the ongoing worldwide pandemic of Covid-19, the United States of America is left wanting of such virtues in the current president.
As we all know, Donald Trump has an aversion to the truth like no other. I’ve called it pathological in this space more than a few times, and he’s done nothing to counteract that assessment. But it’s not just honesty and credibility we should expect of our leaders. We should also expect him or her to have humility. When things go wrong, as they always do in any presidential administration, at times, there needs to be a comeuppance. An acknowledgment, however painful it might be, that maybe I could have done things better, quickly followed by an “I promise to do better in the future” proclamation.
With this president, it’s never a consideration to do any such thing. Throughout his first term, I’ve been waiting for that moment where he rises to the occasion and accepts responsibility for his actions, or in the present catastrophe, inaction. But that acceptance has not, nor will it ever, occur.
We’ve heard interviews and read book excerpts about how this president feels it’s a sign of weakness ever to say you’re sorry or accept responsibility for anything. And to make matters even worse, he blames others. We’ve seen it time and time again. Usually, the disdain he has for his predecessor, Barrack Obama, rears it’s ugly head whenever something goes wrong. The current pandemic crisis and his handling of it is a prime example.
The other day, in a Rose Garden press conference, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor asked him a straightforward question: “Mr. President, do you take any responsibility for disbanding the Pandemic Response Team in 2018?” His answer: “That’s a nasty question. And no, I do not accept responsibility. I didn’t do it. Someone in the administration may have, but it wasn’t me.”
Sigh. Another missed opportunity. How different would the American people feel about this president if he would have responded differently? What if he would have accepted blame, just this one time? For me, It would have been a welcome development. It would show he finally gets it—that saying you’re sorry and admitting mistakes is a sign of strength, not weakness. Once again, though, he failed miserably.
Until now, we’ve been fortunate to have leaders who acted differently in times of crisis and heightened insecurity. When we compare the current president to the actions of others, the contrast is striking. As with most of what’s happened over the last few years, it’s simply unprecedented.
President Harry Truman, for example, was famous for saying that “The buck stops here.” There was a sign on his White House desk that said exactly that. The refrain was a simple yet powerful statement that set the tone for his presidency. Perhaps the current president’s sign should say: “Don’t blame me.”
General Dwight Eisenhower, the architect of the D-Day invasion during WW11 and future president of the United States, famously produced two letters before the operation. The first one sets an optimistic tone: “You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good Luck!”
But his second letter was an ‘in case we failed’ acceptance of responsibility: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold, and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”
We knew the results of that day on June 6, 1944, but at the time, Eisenhower certainly had his doubts. It showed the real measure of the man himself. He showed a willingness to accept the responsibility for the magnitude of the moment, regardless of the outcome. It’s undoubtedly a hypothetical, but what would the current president have done, given the same circumstances? Blame FDR? Blame the weather?
There are other examples, of course. JFK took the blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961; Ronald Reagan acknowledged his error in judgment over Iran-Contra. And Trump’s predecessor, the man he loves to hate, ultimately took the blame for the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act website.
Here’s the deal, folks. Taking the blame for mistakes isn’t a sign of weakness. For Trump, it is. But his malignant narcissism prevents him from seeing it any other way. It’s who he is now, who he’s been in the past, and who he will always be.
How many times in your own lives have you had to say you’re sorry? It’s not easy to do, and I get that. It’s merely an acknowledgment that you’re a human being. It shows you can accept what you did or said was wrong. In our relationships, it helps ensure stability. But for people in leadership positions, especially for someone as high up as the president of the United States, it’s an essential trait.
In times like these, the lack of credibility and honesty from the Commander in Chief leaves us all wondering what’s next. How can we trust what comes out of this White House? How can we believe that he has our interests in his heart instead of his own? The short answer is that we cannot.
But wouldn’t it be nice to see the man display at least a modicum of humility? Take the blame once in a while, vow to do better, and move on. It shouldn’t be that hard. With this president, however, it’s a bridge too far.